Traveling abroad to adopt a child is hardly an ordinary trip overseas. This pediatrician and adoptive parent recommends what to bring for a happy and successful journey.
When Joe and Stacey Selvidio traveled to China last year to adopt their infant daughter, Kaitlin, they couldn’t wait to meet her. They were about to become parents for the first time and certainly weren’t expecting a sick child. Imagine their surprise when they were handed a beautiful baby who was coughing, having trouble breathing, and running a high fever. “We were so excited to see her that we didn’t realize at first just how sick she was,” remembers Stacey. “She would rasp when she took a breath and her chest was rattling. That’s when we got scared.”
Luckily, the Selvidio’s adoption agency was able to arrange for care in a large Chinese hospital where Kaitlin improved with daily intravenous antibiotics. Her parents also gave her an additional week of oral antibiotics that they had brought with them from Colorado. By the time they flew home as a family, Kaitlin was fever-free and healthy. Now two years old, she continues to thrive and has had no further health problems.
The Selvidio’s experience, however, highlights the need for families to prepare for a trip abroad to adopt. While it’s impossible to anticipate every potential scenario, having an emergency plan can make an international adoption trip a lot less stressful.
The Pre-Adoption Medical Consultation
It helps to think of an adoption agency referral as a pregnancy. From the time you set the process in motion, you are expecting a child. And just as a healthy pregnancy requires check-ups prior to delivery, a healthy international adoption needs the same kind of preparation prior to travel. For starters, adoptive families should select a pediatrician for their child prior to traveling abroad. Most physicians’ offices will arrange for a “new mom” visit with prospective parents. This first meeting is intended to be a quick visit only. Briefly interview your pediatrician and find out how much experience she’s had in caring for internationally adopted children. Remember to schedule an initial appointment for your child within a few days of returning home, so that any acute problems can be treated.
If you like, you can have your new pediatrician review your child’s pre-adoption information. Or this review can be performed by a physician at an international adoption clinic, who specializes in the care of children brought from overseas. Your choice of whom to use generally depends on your local pediatrician’s past experience with international adoption and her willingness to assist you as you travel. The pediatricians affiliated with international adoption clinics are accustomed to providing pre-adoption, in-country, and post-adoption services. Whomever you choose, be certain that you have a way to contact your physician quickly with any urgent questions that arise while you are overseas.
How To Assess Your Child’s Health When You Arrive
Children who have been in orphanages are often quiet and withdrawn. They’ve learned by experience that no one will come if they cry, making some institutions eerily quiet places. But whether your child has been cared for in an orphanage or a foster care situation, she will be stressed by your arrival. Spend as much time as possible with her. Sit on the floor and play from a distance at first, letting her move in to you as she becomes more comfortable. As you play, you can assess her. Is she able to crawl? To pull up? To walk? Does she make good eye contact with you and, more importantly with the caregivers she knows well?
Remember that children in institutions have often been confined to a crib and haven’t had a chance to learn all the skills that you might expect. Gradually, as she warms up to you, your child will begin to explore and move about. Parents often report quick advances in their adopted children’s motor skills. Study the developmental milestones sheet that you brought and see if your child’s skills are age-appropriate. Measure her head circumference, weight and length, and plot them on the growth chart. Even children who are malnourished and underweight should have a head circumference within the normal range. A very small head circumference can sometimes be an indication that the brain isn’t growing properly. If you have concerns about any of these issues, contact your physician for advice.